Tag Archives: Manchester Heritage

Marx and Engels were here

Many of the Manchester Ballads date from the period that Engels and Marx lived and worked in Manchester. In his introduction to Engels Condition of the Working Classes in England, David McLellan notes that Engels’ “personal observation was supported by reading masses of papers, statistical reports, and pamphlets” (McLellan 1993: xiii). It is intriguing to think Engels’ work was perhaps informed in part by reading some of the broadside ballads, perhaps even some included in  The Manchester Ballads


He lived around Angel Meadow (McLellan 1993), which is just a few minutes walk from the Swan Street area of New Cross, a major loci of broadside production at the time. Many of the pubs in the area lay claim that Marx and Engels were visitors, and they probably heard the broadside tradition being sung in pubs and markets around Shudehill. There is a table next to a window in Chethams Library where they are known to have worked – the same library that held many of the broadsides in its collections.


The music industry starts here, including protest songs and profiteering publishers!

The commercial appeal of penny broadsides meant printers would produce what could be sold, and many were not really interested in the content, as far as is known (Boardman and Boardman 1974,  1973). It is the case that some printers would even scratch out the name of other printers, and then reprint a ballad for sale without any permission from the original writer and printer (Vicinus 1973).

This can be seen on several of the Manchester Ballads. It also seems that many printers produced ballads without any credit to themselves in order to avoid any legal repercussions from the authorities, as the content of many ballads encouraged and celebrated uprising and dissent (Reid 2015), behaviour likely to land a publisher in trouble.

For example, the version of ‘The Meeting at Peterloo’ reproPeterloo lyricsduced in the Manchester Ballads has no  printer credited, see Fig 3. The same is true of the ballad about the meeting at Kearsal Moor (Fig 2), which is, alongside Peterloo, one of the defining industrial protests of the industrial era, and the authorities did not want to see such events glorified in popular song in the pubs across town.

David Jennings 2015


Money’s too tight to mention…

The temperance movement had strong roots around Manchester, and when set alongside the numerous pubs and breweries that grew up around the factories and houses, the competing messages can be seen when the ballads are read carefully. In contrast to some of the bawdy drinking songs that were a common and popular topic for penny broadsides (Palmer 1980), Rag Bag is a cutting commentary on the exploitation of drinkers by greedy, lying landlords :

“The landlord fattens on things that are choice,

And doth chatter, and flatter, and lie;

While his customers starve – both his wife and the mice,

When seen have a tear in the eye.” (Rag Bag 1861)

Billy Brown is a cautionary tale of a girl who is abandoned by a man when he finds out she is pregnant. Having agreed to marry her the next day, he joins the Navy, never to return:

“He consented to marry her,

It should be seen the next day,

But instead of marrying this poor girl,

He too shipping, and he sail’d far away” (Billy Brown 1837)

The Spinners Lamentation is a story about unemployment and the decline of work that led to poverty and distress during the cotton famine:

“Come listen dear neighbours to these lines I have made,

Its concerning these times, and distress of our trade,

In both town and country our trade is so bad,

You may search where you will, there’s no work to be had”

(Spinner Lamentation 1846?)

The Spinners Lamentation has a printers stock number printed at the bottom that dates it to before 1846, and Boardman notes that “before the days of unemployment benefit, one of the ways unemployed people eked out a living was by going round singing and selling ballads” (Boardman and Palmer 1984: 18) so it may well be that an entrepreneurial Mancunian sold copies of this very song at a penny a piece, having first sung it in the pubs, streets and markets around Manchester.

This collection clearly shows that whilst a ballad may describe a prison (New Bailey Treadmill 1824), an execution (Allen, Gould and Larkin 1867), a new technology (Mr Sadlers Balloon 1785) or a soldier leaving to go to war (The Soldiers Farewell to Manchester c1800), the underlying message of a defiant, happy and resolute Mancunian spirit is never far away.

Ragbag Lyrics

The Content of the Ballads.

The themes in the Manchester Ballads speak of struggle (The Spinners Lamentation 1846), poverty (Tinkers Garden 1837), civic uprisings (The Meeting at Peterloo 1819) and communal tragedy (The Great Flood 1872). However, they also recall good nights out (Victoria Bridge on a Saturday Night 1861), day trips around the region (Johnny Green’s Trip fro’ Owdhum to see the Manchester Railway 1832) and the various innovations and achievements of industrial Manchester are mentioned, and praised, throughout. Whilst some ballads are songs about specific events (The Manchester Exhibition 1857) , and are little more than a brief account in order to spread news around the illiterate population, there is often an agenda within many of the ballads that is not always apparent at first glance (Boardman and Palmer 1984).

Spinner Lament Lyrics

The Manchester Ballads

The Manchester Ballads is a collection of thirty five broadside ballads dating from the time of the industrial revolution. Collected by two local historians and folk music enthusiasts and published with financial help from the education offices at Manchester City Council, The Manchester Ballads was produced in a handsome hardback card case (Fig 2), and is in the form of a folio collection of loose-leaf facsimile prints of the original penny broadsheets.

There is accompanying text with many of the ballads, giving the biography of the song and, where necessary, a glossary of dialect terms. There are tunes suggested to allow the ballads to be sung communally in pubs and at home, and whilst penny broadsides were produced in the many hundreds, many were written to be sung to well known tunes. The impoverished audience would, with few exceptions, have no ability to read music (Boardman and Boardman 1973) and many would also be totally illiterate, only learning the songs through the oral tradition of singing in pubs, at markets and in local homes.

By repeatedly using well known tunes, the songs could reach a wider audience. This also meant that publishers could pay ‘hack writers’ to add new words to existing music, saving money on the production costs (Palmer 1980) as composers were rarely employed. The earliest ballad in this collection dates from 1785, the latest 1882, although within the wider collection of broadside ballads there are printed versions of songs that date back to 1550, and many are thought to be derived from folk songs passed down through the oral tradition for many years before they were ever printed (Boardman and Boardman 1974).

David Jennings (2015)

Manchester Ballads cover

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Edward the Second | Roots, Folk, Reggae
Edward II Edward II, the English roots band that uniquely blend the rhythms of the Caribbean with traditional songs from the British Isles, have been secretly working on a totally new project and will be back in 2015. Temporarily turning away from the rural songs of the middle England Morris teams,…
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May 23, 2015 at 07:59PM

Go and check the website of The Angel. Lots of info, menus and maps – hope to see you there on the 5th July…

The Angel Pub – Real ale pub and Northern Quarter restaurant in Manchester
The Angel is an award winning real ale pub and Northern Quarter restaurant in Manchester. Whether you want haute cuisine, a sandwich or fish and chips, the Angel has something to suit all tastes in a cosy, relaxed atmosphere.
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May 23, 2015 at 02:32PM

Soldiers Farewell to Manchester

One of the original broadsides we performed a version of last Thursday night.  This was a plagiarised version of a much older song which was re-written to mention the newly opened Angel Inn on Rochdale Rd (1807), just a few hundred yards from Band on the Wall and the place where the soldier meets ‘the prettiest girl he ever did see’.  Published in 1807 it is possible that the landlord commissioned the writers (who were based in Pearson’s Printers just a few hundred yards away) to re-write the song as a piece of marketing to attract men to come and drink in the tavern frequented by the most beautiful girls in Manchester – some things never change!

Soldiers Farewel

Photos from the Band on the Wall gig on 23rd April 2015

After much ado we finally took to the stage last week to perform a completely new set taken from the Manchester Broadsides.

Performing these songs at Band on the Wall, originally called the George and Dragon when it first opened in 1806, on St Georges Day was an amazing buzz so thanks to all who made it on the night.

Over the next few weeks and months we will be publishing more of the fascinating stories behind these amazing songs, as well as appearing at a number of great festivals across the UK, so look forward to seeing you at one of them.

Band Wall Glen

Band Wall Gaffer


Band Wall T